Puerto Rico is a tropical island paradise, where the people are a blend of heritages that include African, Taino, Spanish and American.
Generally, the pace of life in Puerto Rico is representative of slower island living, with a casual attitude towards work and politics. Newcomers, however, do not find this to be true in the bustling cities of San Juan and Mayaguez. The people are hardworking, politically involved and especially passionate about the preservation of their culture.
After being governed as a territory by the United States for some 50 years, Puerto Rico was established as a Commonwealth in 1952. Since that time, there have been ongoing political debates regarding the island's status. Some residents are content with their present political situation, while others would like to see Puerto Rico become the 51st state of the United States; yet a third group, and very small minority, would like the island to be totally independent. National referendums on statehood have been very close, thus keeping the issue alive.
The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico enjoys almost complete internal autonomy. Puerto Rican citizens share most of the rights, privileges and obligations enjoyed by other U.S. citizens, but without being able to participate in the voting process. They are also not responsible for paying federal income taxes. In other respects, Puerto Rico functions as if it were a U.S. state. It controls law making in all matters that are normally the authority of the individual states, such as schools, police, courts, and public works.
A resident Commissioner is chosen by the island's electorate for a four-year term and has all the privileges of a U.S. Congressman, except being able to vote on the floor of Congress. He may, however, vote on any committees of which he is a member.
The chief executive of Puerto Rico is the governor, elected for a four-year term. The legislature consists of a Senate with at least 27 seats, currently 29, and a 51-member House of Representatives, whose members are elected by popular vote for four-year terms.
The U.S. Federal Government retains control of customs, interstate trade, operation of the postal service, the Coast Guard, lighthouse service, licensing of radio and television stations, and other matters that are within its jurisdiction within the 50 states. Federal courts are maintained for civil and criminal matters within the province of the federal government.
Economically, Puerto Rico originally developed a plantation life-style based on three crops: sugar cane, coffee and tobacco. Since the 1950s, however, the government has encouraged the growth of the manufacturing sector and the country has become a significant center for tourism, service industries, and pharmaceuticals. There are over 2,000 industrial plants on the island, most of which export to the U.S. mainland.
Many U.S. department stores and banks have branches on the island. The government has also launched a program to privatize government-owned businesses, reform the tax structure, and upgrade water, sewage, highway, power, and telecommunications facilities.
Puerto Rico today
Puerto Rico has a high standard of living relative to other islands in the Caribbean, though not necessarily relative to U.S. states. For instance, the unemployment rate continues to be higher than in the United States.
In 1991, Spanish was voted to be the only official language of the island, but in 1993 English was also made an official language. Newcomers who do not speak Spanish have little reason to worry, since most people on the island have a working knowledge of English.
Tourism is a fast-growing industry on the island, and Puerto Rico provides an ideal spot for both vacations and business. Geographically, the island is also strategically situated to allow Puerto Rico to function as a facilitator and bridge between the cultures and business climate of South America and North America.